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If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

It’s nearly four years since the school was inspected and last week’s heat-wave brought this rather traumatic experience back with a shudder and a sense of dread. It was the last full week of term in July 2013, temperatures were up in the 30s and everyone was more than ready for a well-deserved holiday. Then the phone rang – informing us that an Ofsted team would be in school the next day. On the first morning the lead inspector had a minor tantrum and Terry was off to B&Q in search of an emergency fan. Her quote, ‘how do you expect us to work in this heat?’ had a certain irony, as clearly this was the expectation for the 400 or so children. Whilst we understand the importance of school inspections, our school’s most recent experience was extremely stressful from start to finish, as every aspect of school life was scrutinised. In the end the outcome was good, but the staff team and governing body had taken a bit of a battering.

These days Ofsted inspections are much more about ‘proving’ than ‘improving’, so it was refreshing to attend training this week from The Education Development Trust that takes a very different approach to inspection. The school has committed to taking part in a piece of work called the School Partnership Programme, in which school leaders open up their schools to inspection by the leadership teams from partner schools. Rather than hide any areas that might be considered work in progress, these are shared in a warts and all inspection, so that both schools grow through the process of giving and receiving constructive feedback.

So far this sounds all rather straightforward, however the success of this programme all comes down to how open the school is to receiving feedback. The challenge is therefore to create a climate where feedback is both expected and valued, which is not always easy when it is news we might not necessarily want to hear.

The most interesting part of the training was a discussion about how we might go about building such a culture. Here it was suggested that it is important to understand this can only happen where staff feel a high level of safety and trust, and where positive feedback is the norm. The ratio of 5:1 was discussed, i.e. five instances of sincere positive feedback for every piece of criticism or advice. Try this at home and you’ll find it’s much easier to say than to do – and for feedback to be effective this has to be the norm.

It was also pointed out that to create a feedback-rich culture, school leaders have to model this every day – both expecting and asking for feedback on our own performance, being sure to be reflective even when the message is critical. So if you hear me asking you how you think we’re doing, or how you think we could be more effective as a school, please be honest and tell me – but don’t forget to say five positive things first. And if you want to tell Ofsted about our school, feel free to do that too. You’ll find them at www.parentview.ofsted.gov.uk, where they’ll no doubt be watching the barometer, waiting to descend. Bring it on!

William